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Activism in Architecture: the bright dreams of passive energy

Book edited by: Margot McDonald and Carolina Dayer 

This collection of invited essays written by a diverse group of scholars and professionals sheds light on the unique relationship of passive architectural systems and activism that took hold in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Focused through the pioneering work of the American chemist and inventor, Harold R. Hay (1909-2009), the book assembles essays that closely examine his work and the work of individuals who directly and tangentially relate to the spirit of his inventions and

activist attitude. Together, these writings add an important contribution to the on-going project of exploring passive environmental controls as an active agent in shaping socio-political debates. The 1960s and 1970s ushered in a period of social and environmental activism that championed improvements in human rights as well as the protection and conservation of the environment. A few, like Harold Hay, were ahead of their time, venturing into the invention of new technologies as a mode of activism. Years before Denis Hayes’ speech announcing the construction of a movement that values people more than technology on the inaugural Earth Day, 1970; and before the energetic oil crisis provoked new policy debates on conservation, Hay had already designed, built and tested a unique system that passively utilized solar energy and night-sky radiation in small dwellings. Following on these technological successes, he laid the foundation for the now commonplace notion that knowledge of environmental systems should be a driver of public policy debates. Building on Hays’ activist spirit, this book focuses on passive energy investigations, both recent and past, that conjoin with the constellation of revolutionary events spanning from 1960 all the way to the XXI century.

Publisher:  Routledge (forthcoming)


Confabulations: Storytelling in Architecture 

Book edited by: Paul Emmons, Marcia Feuerstein and Carolina Dayer

Confabulation is a drawing together through storytelling. Fundamental to our perception, memory, and thought is the way we join fractured experiences to construct a narrative. Confabulations: Storytelling in Architecture weaves together poetic ideas, objects, and events and returns you to everyday experiences of life through juxtapositions

with dreams, fantasies, and hypotheticals. It follows the intellectual and creative framework of architectural cosmopoesis developed and practiced by the distinguished

thinker, architect, and professor Dr. Marco Frascari, who thought deeply about the role of storytelling in architecture. Bringing together a collection of 24 essays from a diverse and respected group of scholars, this book presents the convergence of architecture and storytelling across a broad temporal, geographic, and cultural range. Beginning with an introduction framing the topic, the book is organized along a continuous thread structured around fourkey areas: architecture of stories, stories of architecture, stories of theory and practice

of stories. Beautifully illustrated throughout and including a 64-page full colour section, Confabulations is an insightful investigation into architectural narratives.

Publisher:  Routledge, 2016

On becoming petrified: the role of stupor in Carlo Scarpa’s erotic drawing practice

Medusa’s irresistible charms condemned to a life of petrified seduction holds parallels with the practice of architecture. Le Corbusier once described the paralyzing effect of places that paradoxically move us as “ineffable.” The quality of being “out of words” simultaneously tells us, much like in Jorge Luis Borges’ Aleph, an infinite amount of words that cannot be spoken. The moment of being petrified or frozen in stone may be called stupor, which is the condition by which one experiences extreme silence and loudness simultaneously. In a lecture at the IUAV, Carlo Scarpa described the role of erased marks in architectural drawings. Stressing that strong paper hosts erased marks better, he compared the traced memory of lines to the swirly nature of architects’ thinking. By creating a mnemonic machine for remembering, the architect would encounter his/her forgotten thoughts through the gentle presence of lines engraved within the skin of the paper. To further elaborate on this thought, he compared the act of remembering as a form of encounter. Such encounter, he explained, emerges from an acute intuition that is comparable to the being stupefied by the hair of woman. The fertile realm of his imagination relied on the unexpected and ineffable qualities of the erotic. Within his silent and constant practice of drawing, Scarpa nonetheless sought moments of stupor, of suspended disbelief and awe where an apex of loud silence occurred at the moment of a design realization. While many women inhabit Scarpa’s imaginary repertoire of architectural discourse, the erotic stupor of his drawing practice cannot be reduced to just these representations. This paper will unfold Scarpa’s practice of drawing as an erotic seduction that plays on secrecy and discoveries to find moments of stupor within such absolute and fleeting silence, a chance, much like men looking at Medusa, to become architecture.

to be published in The Place of Silence: Experience, Environment and Affect edited by Mark Dorrian and Christos Kakalis

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (forthcoming)

A Magic-Real Gap in Architecture 

In 1925, German art critic Franz Roh formalized the notion of Magic Realism (magischer Realismus) as a celebration of everyday life. In Italian literature, the same notion was explored in the works of Massimo Bontempelli. But it was the architect Friedrich Kiesler who imported the notion into architecture, stating that ‘Magic Architecture ... holds the balance between the two extremes of man’, his ‘desire for the machine’ and technology on the one hand, his ‘denial of science’ on the other. This paper follows the development of the notion of Magic Realism throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, tracing its re-emergence in works as varied as those of Carlo Scarpa, Billie Tsien and Tod Williams. 

published in "A Partial Synthesis": Debates on Architectural Realism, bfo-Journal, 2.2016 

Publisher:  bauforschungonline.ch  

Linear Stories in Architectural Drawing: Carlo Scarpa Confabulations

Architecture and storytelling share a common ground in the activity of world-making. Both are artisans who guide the viewer’s and listener’s imagination into another realm. The storyteller’s architecture is primarily language. The architect’s primary storytelling medium is drawing. Through drawing, an architect guides the viewer’s imagination into another not-yet-real world that is projected much like divinatory practices of reading palms or tarot cards.  The magic-real field of facts and fictions coexisting in one realm can be understood as a confabulation. A confabulation brings together both fact and fiction through fārī, a Fable, meaning 'to speak'. In the field of neurology, a mental patient’s confabulation may be when convinces himself that he is in Venice, although he also admits that the town he is seeing through the window is Alexandria.  He knows both places, he feels both places and, despite the contradiction, both places constitute his reality. Venetian architect and storyteller par excellence, Carlo Scarpa, exercised the power of confabulations throughout his practice of drawing and building. While architectural historians have attempted to explain Scarpa’s work as layers coming together, very little close reading of the drawings has been made despite the thousands of drawings the architect constructed. Scarpa’s drawings, like confabulations, are places where many realities simultaneously coexist but all constitute one reality in a linear process, linear understood not as a straight, nor predictable. This linearity is closely related to how we live and how stories are made, connecting all the parts despite the apparent contradictions. One could argue that Scarpa, has in fact, only done one drawing in his life, one extremely long drawing, and that one drawing has made him. When the designers of drawings are no longer present to present their story, we must rely on reading the clues from the making of the drawings. This paper deepens into Scarpa’s marks to reveal what has been blindly exposed into the surface of his fabulous drawings. 

published in Confabulations: Storytelling in Architecture, Editors: Paul Emmons, Marcia Feuerstein, Carolina Dayer

Publisher: Routledge, 2016 


Material Intuitions: Tracing Carlo Scarpa's Nose

The series of drawings constructed for San Sebastiano project by Carlo Scarpa hide many stories that are allusive of a mode of drawing and thinking that coincide with the popular idiom: 'Follow your nose' in two possible significations relevant for the architect’s material imagination. On one side, the metaphorical sense of the idiom could signify a creative act undertaken as unexpected things occur. This manifests through specific reactions towards a given condition, provoking the architect’s imagination to act. On the other side, the architect relies on the literal sense that narrates directly to making places where smell could play a key role in the experience of the inhabitants, in this case the students smelling a delicious calming scent while being stressed during an exam day. The particular and universal notions of intuition taking place in the drawings of Carlo Scarpa are demonstrative cases of how the material of the drawing as well as the thing projected into the drawing are essential components for a material imagination that originates in the richness of everyday life.

published in The Material Imagination: Reveries on Architecture and Matter, Editor: Matthew Mindrup, PhD

Publisher: Ashgate, 2014


Paul Klee's Enacted Lines

Architectural drawing is often misconstrued as a pre-formed idea in the mind instead of a per-formed construction on paper. To per-form a drawing is to allow it to emerge within the act of drawing itself. Because performance is a form of expressing, the per-formed architectural drawing focuses on the process of making instead of the final outcome.  The prefix per- which means through or during, suggests that the form of the drawing, is discovered as it is drawn. Performance in drawing was highly present in the education of architects of the Bauhaus during the 1920’s. The Swiss painter and professor, Paul Klee (1879-1940) thought and imagined drawings as an active performance of media, color and geometry. By using multiple layers of visible and invisible factures, from oil- transfers to ‘walking lines’, Klee was able to find and transmit the playful potential of drawing as an act of design in itself. 

More Info: paper by Paul Emmons and Carolina Dayer

published in Architecture as a Performing Art , Editors: Marcia Feuerstein and Gray Read

Publisher: Ashgate, 2013


Inhabiting the drawn narratives of Carlo Scarpa

If narrative, as suggested by Paul Ricouer, is seen as a construction of events and not just as a mere  chronological succession of instants, we need to ask, first, what constitutes an event; and second, how  these events can be constructed, both as realities and as fictions. The structure of this paper is twofold.  The first part will examine the notion of “event” through a close reading of two stories: one by the  Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar (1914‐1984) and one by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906‐ 1978). The second part of the paper will focus on the “construction” of events itself in the architectural drawings of Scarpa as a mode of working and imagining.

More info: Paper written for PHD Presentation

Presentation Date: 2012


Corporis Adumbratio: the divine scale of God in the human scale of Earth

From the Vitruvian species of drawings: icnographia, orthographia and scenographia, Juan Caramuel de Lobkowitz in his treatise Architectura Civil Recta y Oblicua (1678) constructed an original interpretation of scenographia, meaning for him sciographia.  He translated sciographia in Latin as “adumbratio” and into Spanish as “Arte de Dibuxar Sombras”, or the art of drawing shadows.  He divided sciographia into natural and artificial.  The natural occurs when one contemplates a temple or a beautiful building.  Once the sun is at its zenith, the architect has to imagine that the opaque stones are actually translucent, revealing their hidden secrets through shadows projected on the floor.  After the architect imagines this phenomenon, a new footprint or icnographia is revealed through the shadows.  While doing this imaginative exercise the architect translates his experience and makes it physical through an architectural drawing, artificial sciographia.  For the architect to work the shadows that are being imagined and cast onto the floor now have to become part of a scaled drawing.  This process starts in the perfect world of God, and it goes down to the “imperfect” world of humans. The sunlight and shadows are a physical manifestation of God’s presence in the Earth and Juan Caramuel proposes that the architect needs to work with the divine light to conceive architecture. The vertical order from perfect to imperfect it is manifested then in an icnographia that is a horizontal representation of the building parallel to the Earth. If God is the first architect, then the architect in Earth must relate to his wisdom and divinity.  Juan Caramuel draws this vertical relationship through the presence of light and shadow. The divine scale of God in the heavens requires a translation to a human scale on Earth, in this way earthly architecture is adumbrated by the divine.

More Info: paper presented at AHRA Scale Conference, University of Kent

Presentation Date: 2010


Material Imagination at the drawing table of Vincenzo Scamozzi

"Material imagination" is a concept that Gaston Bachelard brought to light in 1957.  However, the nature of material imagination in architecture has always been present.  The value and meaning that materials have are not absolute but it is a cultural construction that happens whether the architect likes it or not.  Many architects have taken advantages of this phenomenon and because they have understood what material imagination is they have been able to play and feel joy with it.  The notion of imagining with materials instead of imagining about materials is a difference that only good architects are aware of.  In the process of design, material imagination is absolutely necessary and the drawing becomes the place in which this imagination can become tangible and enjoyable.  Through a material medium, the drawing, the architect’s imagination is seduced to make more, to fantasize more, to discover more. Vincenzo Scamozzi, 1548 – 1616 in his L'Idea della Architettura Universale on the first part, of the first book on chapter fifteen, he talks about the instruments, drafting material and models that are needed by the architect.  In the section where he talks about ink, he expresses that good ink is only found in a few places. However he suggests that the architect can make his own ink by mixing an excellent Roman wine, or white wine with a crinkled Gall growing in the peninsula of Istria.  He goes one explaining the entire process of mixing, preparing and waiting for the ink to be ready after several days of alchemical changes.  This simple recipe is a symbol of the material imagination of the architect taking place at the very beginning of the design.  Scamozzi sets for himself a drawing table full of colors, odors, textures, qualities and particularities that will contribute significantly to the edification of the future building.  All the cultural notions of how to draw well and build well, build upon a rich cultural perception of architecture.

More Info: paper presented The Cultural Role of Architecture Conference at Lincoln University

Presentation Date: 2010